Sunday, July 17, 2022

Signs of the End Times: The Parable of the Budding Fig Tree

It was AD 70, 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and the walls of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel were surrounded by Roman soldiers numbering over 60,000. The walls were crumbling, the Romans were advancing, thousands had already died when various cities in the north and eastern regions had been destroyed by the Romans.

Four years early several different Jewish sects had led radical rebellions against the occupying romans, and scored several victories, overthrowing the Romans and restoring Jewish control over the nation of Israel. But as soon as the news had reached the ears of Nero the emperor of Rome, he dispatched a Roman army to retake the hotly disputed territory.

The Roman force defeated an army of 10,000 Jewish troops which fled in the face of their overwhelming numbers. Now the Roman army had surrounded Jerusalem itself, the holy city, defended by three layers of walls. The Jews made the Romans pay dearly, attacking their soldiers building the siege works. And they made them pay dearly for every inch of ground. When the Roman army attacked through the second level of defenses, the Jews built a tunnel under their siege ramps and set them on fire, bringing them tumbling down.

But finally the Romans had breached all 3 walls, and attacked the last fortress of Jerusalem, the Antonia fortress, built by Herod to protect and control the temple. They breached the Antonia, and they surrounded the Jew’s sacred temple. At this moment Jews, not just soldiers, but men, women, and child, took anything they could use as weapons, and defended the temple, the most sacred symbol of Judaism. But the Romans could not be stopped. They slaughtered the mobs, and burned the temple to the ground, smashing it to pieces.

And ever since then the Jews had lived as exiles among the nations.

All of this chaos and destruction, Jesus knew about long before, 40 years earlier, in a conversation from Luke 21, 5 and 6 which says, “5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’”

Jesus the son of God, knew 40 years ahead of time, that the nation of Israel would reject Him as their messiah. He knew what they really wanted, when he came, they wanted a political leader to help them overthrow the roman empire. But that wasn’t the reason that Jesus came. Jesus came to save us not from political powers, but from our own sins, and the penalty for them. The Jews did not recognize the coming of their messiah. Which is why Jesus when he saw Jerusalem, he wept for the city, because they did not recognize his coming.

All of this today, connects with our parable today, from the book of Luke, chapter 21, the parable of the budding fig tree.

It’s a very brief parable, only 3 verses. Yet it’s important enough to be included in Mark, Matthew, and Luke’s gospel. But before we get into it, let’s take a look at the context of the parable, from Luke 21.

So Jesus tells his disciples that the temple will be destroyed, so don’t be too impressed by it’s beauty. Then it says, “ ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?

8 He replied: ‘Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am he,” and, “The time is near.” Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.’”

Here we see Jesus beginning to teach about events that will take place after he is crucified and the early church will face persecution and false teachers. This is also a teaching about the last days of Christians. Then Jesus addresses what will take place for the disciples…

Then he said to them: ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

Notice he says, “before this” they will persecute you. Notice that all of these things being described by Jesus are things that happened to people like Peter and Paul in the book of Acts, which documents the activities of the early church.

And he reminds them, I will protect you, to the point that not a hair on your head will perish, yet, God will also make it clear when it’s your time, and some of you will be put to death. Are those two statements in contradiction?

No, I don’t think so. He’s saying that not a hair on your head will perish. Yet he also says some will be put to death. That is how it works in the kingdom of God. Not a single hair on my head can be touched until it’s the appropriate time for me to go. Only until then. Not before. Only when God says.

Next we see Jesus talking about the destruction of Jerusalem, when he says, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. 21 Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. 22 For this is the time of punishment in fulfilment of all that has been written. 23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."

Stop at verse 24, and that is speaking about the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Then, the times of the gentiles would begin, that us. From AD 70 until now, the gospel has spread through the gentile nations.

Then in verses 25-28 Jesus talks about the last days, which are times still ahead of us. He says, ‘There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

So Jesus tells us there will be all these things happening in the last days, in a time we call the great tribulation during the end times. There will be hurricanes, people will be full of terror. The heavenly bodies will be shaken, so stays in the sky, constellations will change and shift and people will be terrified. During those times, then Jesus will come with power and glory.

Then, Jesus tells our parable today, fitting it into the context of observing the seasons and times that we’re in carefully, and he says, “He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig-tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

It’s a very simple, and brief parable. What does it look like on the trees after winter? They are completely bare. They look very empty. You just see cold, wet branches. Every year it shocks me and I think, look at how barren those trees look. They could never sprout green leaves again, look at them, they’re dead. And then to our surprise every year they produce leaves, and grow thick and green and weighed down again. And we know then that spring has come. And we’re excited.

In the same way, we should observe the times we’re in and watch carefully for the signs of the times. Just like back when Jesus told this parable, they could remember the words of Jesus, and say oh yes, Jesus said Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies. And we should try to escape.

Pretty simple, know the times your in. Have discernment in regard to things going on in the world. I can watch for certain indications that Christ is returning soon. I’ll give you a few examples.

1. Knowledge has increased, in the book of Daniel we’re told that knowledge would increase across the planet before the end times. Today we have the internet and knowledge is available at our fingertips 24/7

2. Stirrings of one world government. According to Revelation the anti-Christ will have power over the entire world, so it’s wise to watch for stirrings of one world government. We see certain alliances, like European Union, the United Nations, and other alliances. We’re not there yet though

3. We’re told in Revelation that in the tribulation people will be forced to take a ‘mark’ to show their submission to the anti-Christ. We see increasing ways for people to be marked, whether by a tattoo or a microchip implant

4. Israel became a nation again after WWII, the Bible prophesied that this would happen and in the 1950s it did.

These are just some examples of things to watch for in the world, to discern the times and seasons we’re in.

Jesus then tells his disciples, “‘Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

And all the things he mentions there, that he says will happen, did happen. The temple was destroyed, Israel was taken prisoner and spread to the nations, historians call that the diaspora. That’s why the Nazi’s were so easily able to target and exterminate Jews. They were spread throughout Germany, Poland, Austria, France, Belgium, and all the European nations, and were also viewed with distrust, because though they lived in foreign nations they always held onto their Jewish identity.

Many get confused and say “Jesus said all these things will take place before this generation passes.” Doesn’t that mean he should’ve returned? But Jesus was talking about the things he said would happen in their time, he also talked about the future there, about after the times of the gentiles were over. So no, he was only referring to those things he said would happen presently, not the things mentioned for the distant future.

Then we get one final warning from Jesus here, he says, “34 ‘Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.’”

This was probably mainly a warning for the Jews living at this time, that they should be prepared for very difficult times after he left them.

But I think it’s also an important warning for us as well.

Be careful, each of us here, be careful that we don’t become complacent, lazy, weighed down with “carousing” that sexually acting out, or drunkenness, where we’re always eating and getting drunk, and not focused or sober, and of course the anxieties of life can weigh us down, and then we get focused on worldly things instead of focused on Jesus.

Make sure you’re ready and on watch.

Because he says in verse 35 difficult times will come to all residents of the Earth, not just us, not just the Jews, but to everyone, difficult times come. Make sure you’re on watch, and praying.

Make sure you’re ready for Christ’s return. It will happen sooner than you think. It could be in your life time.

And I’m worried that many in the body of Christ don’t really fear God. They don’t really reverence him. And they won’t be ready. They won’t be ready to stand before Jesus without shame. Because they’re doing shameful things in the shadows and thinking well I have plenty of time to repent later. And then Jesus may just come, and they’ll be ashamed on that day, because Christ will find them in sin, and assign them a place with the unbelievers, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We think well that couldn’t happen to me. Well, we better be wise and cautious and sober, and praying, fearing and loving God, so we’re ready and able to stand without shame before Christ on the last day. Because he may come sooner than we think.